Editor’s Note: Every year, we compile our favorite items from the last 12 months of riding & reporting. Some we’ve used, others – well, we’d like to. Think of it as an Editor’s Choice, a best of, or simply what excited us through the year. Cory is our ‘cross guy. As a mountain biker riding road bikes off-road for decades, cyclocross has always been his do-it-all solution. But this year has been a good one for gravel too. So besides proper trail riding, our full European correspondent finally gets to go bikepacking on proper tires and bikes ready for his shenanigans. If you like getting skinnies dirty, this gift guide is for you…
Autumn seemed to hit me abruptly in the face this year. It jumped from beautiful sunny riding to cold dreary commutes so quickly that it took me by surprise. But I guess that’s my signal of another year coming to an end. And a reminder to review all of the things that would make it on my own holiday gift ideas wish list.
So as the days in 2017 tick away, I’ll leave you with my highlights from the year. Plus suggestions for great new gear for yourself (or your favorite cyclists) and how to get out on the bike with those closest to you.
This year I’ve been able to fully embrace how my passion for endurance mountain biking and cyclocross can mix together into off-road touring. For the most part, with skilled technical handling, a fat-tired ‘cross or gravel bike can take on pretty much any type of terrain. And now with so many good options out there for lightweight frame, handlebar & saddle bags, it’s easier than ever to head out on multi-day, mixed-surface bikepacking adventures. The first of these quick trips in 2017 was a three-day ride taking in asphalt, gravel & singletrack, and hitting three European capitals from Bratislava to Vienna to Prague. Easy-peasy.
It was such a good time of long days exploring routes on the go and great on-the-bike camaraderie. We immediately began talking about the next trip before we had even made it home. Since then, there have been shorter trips. Some along the excellent s24o (sub 24 hour overnighter) concept – up to slightly longer four day trips. But the experience I really hold dear this year has been these extended weekend trips with friends. It doesn’t require that much planning or too much commitment. But there are plenty of opportunities for a long 3-day weekend that pretty much anyone can manage. Our latest Czech Switzerland ride got named Brohemian Radsody soon after we were under way. A little bit of adventure and unexpected obstacles built new friendships and solidified old ones.
This is still mostly uncharted territory, so it’s pretty much up to you to get some friends together and plan your own trip. The XPDTN3.club concept helped kick us into gear at the end of last year. And our Bratislava-Vienna-Prague ride will get included there (when I get out from under a mountain of gear news & reviews.) XPDTN3.club offers a great and expanding resource for this type of adventure, and maybe the impetus for your own trip with friends as well. As for the holiday wish list, pack up some bikepacking bags and hand draw some IOUs for a long weekend of riding adventure.
Road, Gravel, or Cyclocross Bike
Festka Gravel One custom carbon road or gravel road bike. I’ve pretty much been lusting after a custom-made carbon gravel bike for years. I don’t really need a gravel bike with 40mm tires for off-road & trail riding, as I’m pretty happy with CX & XC bikes for that, depending on the terrain. But I want a road bike that can fit large volume road tires in the 27-30mm range. So I can enjoy speed and comfort whether the roads are smooth or rough. And always be capable to take the dirt road detour when it pops up in my peripheral vision.
The Festka Gravel One is made by hand in Prague (conveniently, where we have Bikerumor’s EU HQ), and built of carbon tubing crafted entirely in the Czech Republic as well, with some amazing looking weaves and layup. Fully custom carbon doesn’t come cheap with framesets starting around $4,900/4,500€. But it means I can get the quick handling road geometry that I want, the thru-axles & flat mount discs that I need, the ability to run a 35mm tire with some knobs when I want more adventure, and routing for any groupset, even for the less common, but perfect for me – mechanical shifting hydraulic disc brake setup that means never having to charge my bike. Oh yeah and custom, shiny paint never hurts either, right?
Bombtrack Audax steel fat tire road plus bike. A good alt-road bike doesn’t need to threaten the ten grand threshold to be fun, or even to be fast-riding & dirt-capable these days. The WTB Horizon tires convinced me earlier in the year of the versatility and excellent ride character of a tubeless 650b RoadPlus setup. Now Bombtrack has completely revised their steel do-it-all Audax road bike into an affordable plus-sized gem. It looks great, it rides great, and at $2,530/2,200€ complete, it will make great in-roads into hard & mixed surface riding for mountain bikers, or even a chance for roadies to shed the shackles of smooth asphalt.
BMC Speedfox Trailsync-ed trail/all-mountain bike. On to proper trail riding. There’s been so much talk about plus-sized tires and e-MTBs this year. But I am more of a purist when it comes to mountain biking. I get the concept behind the other options. But when I disappear into the forests I want a light full suspension bike, just a bit more burly to handle technical trail riding.
The 120mm 29er BMC Speedfox debuted this summer with a Trailsync-ed integrated dropper seatpost that linked with the rear shock platform. Drop the seat and the suspension automatically opens fully for cush descending. Pop the seat back up and the shock gets platform compression support. Don’t think of it as a lockout, the shock remains active even with the seat up. But we rode the bike a bit this summer and the ride was excellent. No more forgetting to lock or unlock your rear shock. It was just always in the right mode for efficient pedaling and smile-inducing descents.
That full carbon X01 Eagle bike I rode isn’t cheap at $7,500. But there is also a $4,300 frame kit option. And the Trailsync setup is still available down to the $4,300 complete Speedfox 02 Three. That bike mates an alloy rear end to the carbon main frame and an SLX drivetrain.